President Barack Obama lauded the Democratic senators’ near unanimous decision Thursday to gut the Senate’s 200-year-old policy of granting procedural rights to the minority party, and so help the president pack the courts with ideologically sympathetic judges.
“Enough is enough,” Obama declared in a midday statement at the White House. “The American people’s business is far too important to keep falling prey day after day to Washington politics,” Obama said as he touted pure majority rule.
But the founders wanted to avoid a so-called “tyranny of the majority,” and so they divided political power among the House of Representatives, the Senate, the president and the courts. Thursday’s procedural changes makes the Senate more of an ally to the White House, and less of an independent political body.
Back in 2005, when he was a senator, Obama applauded the founders’ “separation of powers” strategy.
“You know, the founders designed this system, as frustrating as it is, to make sure that there’s a broad consensus before the country moves forward,” Sen. Obama said in April 2005.
But he has changed his policy in the face of growing public opposition to his agenda.
“If you’ve got a majority of folks who believe in something, it should be able to pass,” Obama insisted Thursday.
“Today’s pattern of obstruction is not normal — it’s not what our founders envisioned — [but is] a deliberate effort to obstruct everything, just to refight the results of an election,” said Obama, whose poll ratings have fallen this week to around 40 percent, far below his election-day score of 52 percent.
The obstruction “was simply because they opposed the policies that the American people voted for in the last election,” he claimed.
Obama’s demand for unrestricted majority rule was echoed by Democratic senators, who are in the majority, at least until November 2014.
“It will enable us to get things done, which is what the American people want,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said on MSNBC shortly after the vote.
But senators from the minority party in the Senate, the GOP, warned that the change would have a deep impact on Washington politics.
“It is a sad day in the history of the Senate,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, the GOP’s Senate leader.
“This is the most important and most dangerous restructuring of Senate rules since Thomas Jefferson wrote them at the beginning of our country,” said Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.
“This is about a naked power grab, and nothing more,” Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said. “This is about the other side not getting everything they want, when they want it.”
Under the new Senate rules, only a bare majority of senators — or 50 votes — are needed to confirm judicial nominees and administration officials. Prior to the changes, 60 voters were needed to confirm a nomination.
The change allows Obama to win confirmations of like-minded progressive activists to the appeals courts, and to federal agencies, even in the face of uniform opposition from the minority GOP senators.
Those appeals court judgeships are critical, because they resolve many legal disputes. The progressive judges are expected to rubber-stamp Obama’s regulations, legal briefs and legal priorities.
The change will help Obama bypass the elected GOP majority in the House, and push his policies on the public via regulations, court cases, agency rulings and agency passivity.
In 2005, 14 Republican and Democratic senators united to block the GOP’s effort to change the 60-vote rule.
In 2012, the Democrats’ Senate leader, Sen. Harry Reid, threatened to change the rules, but backed down after GOP concessions.
On Thursday, Reid forced through the change after GOP senators tried to block the appointment of three left-leaning judges to the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.